GREENWOOD LAKE – Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley) joined Greenwood Lake Union Free School District leadership and local officials on Thursday to announce historic levels of school aid funded in this year’s state budget and the creation of 20 first-ever pre-kindergarten seats at Greenwood Lake. Over the past three years of a four-year phase-in to truly universal pre-kindergarten, Skoufis’ early childhood advocacy has resulted in the implementation of 3,681 first-ever UPK slots for Orange County’s kids.
The recently-enacted budget is the first in many years to fully fund the state’s share of school foundation aid. This historic boost equates to 25% – or $102 million – above last year’s state-funded aid for the Senator’s Hudson Valley district, a major win not just for local kids and classrooms, but for taxpayers: increases in state funding help school districts keep local property taxes down without sacrificing learning and services for Orange County’s 42,000 public school students.
“As the product of a great public school education here in Orange County, I’m committed to doing all I can to support our students, teachers, administrators, and families,” said Skoufis. “By giving each of our students access to a phenomenal education, we’re leveling the playing field for kids and encouraging smart stewardship of taxpayer dollars. I applaud all the work Greenwood Lake UFSD has done to ensure the strongest possible early childhood experiences while eliminating a huge financial burden for our young working families.”
Greenwood Lake is also among a large number of Orange County school districts that’s expected to benefit from a forthcoming change in federal policy, and $134 million from New York State’s enacted budget, regarding the provision of free and reduced student meals.
The USDA’s modification of what’s known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) will grant universal free school meals to all students within a given district where at least 25% of pupils are eligible for support, and the new funding will allow the state to reimburse CEP-participating schools, eliminating the local share of costs. This change will have wide-ranging nutritional and social impacts for students who may be struggling, and will enable school districts to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, not just those who meet income requirements.
GWLUFSD Board President Jonathan Thurber said, “We are very proud of the curriculums and programs we offer, and are pleased to be able to continue those offerings next year thanks to both the residents of Greenwood Lake for overwhelmingly supporting our budget, and to our representatives at the state level, including Senator Skoufis, who passed a state budget that both fully funds our foundation aid and allows us to open our Pre-Kindergarten classroom this fall.”
GWLUFSD Superintendent Sarah Hadden said, “Opening our Pre-Kindergarten classroom is a landmark moment for Greenwood Lake. We are incredibly grateful to Senator Skoufis for his hands-on guidance and assistance as we were exploring the option of offering this program to our youngest Lakers. While a Pre-K curriculum does focus on the academic topics of colors, number sense, and letter sounds and identification, the development of skills such as following a schedule or performing self-help tasks – tying shoes, handwashing, and zipping jackets – are equally advantageous. We believe adding Pre-Kindergarten will directly affect the long-term success of our students for years to come.
GWL Elementary Principal Dianne Connolly said, “After several years of planning, my staff and I are very excited to welcome Universal Pre-Kindergarten to the educational offerings for our GWL District families. Having these young ones join us for fun and friendly, hands-on learning will help establish a positive association with school and provide lots of opportunities to develop academic and social skills while becoming part of our LakerPride community. We very much appreciate Senator Skoufis’ support in helping us navigate to this point and his leadership in bringing UPK to schools across NY State.”
The state’s UPK funding is considered ‘use it or lose it,’ meaning that school districts that do not choose to create pre-kindergarten programs will be forced to return the aid to Albany. Skoufis is urging every district to recognize the lasting value these funds will provide, and encourages local parents to speak out about the need for UPK.